January News Letter (Hellene School Travel) – Bumper School Trip Review

Success and failure. Group Leader contributions, questions, advice, forward planning and realistic expectations.  

Χαίρετε! Saluto! Belated Happy New Year!

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In common with so many, we too were incapacitated by ‘The Debilitating Bug That Keeps On Giving’ at the end of what was evidently a rather interminable Autumn Term for everyone. We trust all are now on the mend and that Spring Term proves more forgiving!

Group Leader Mini-Blogs!

Firstly, a huge thanks to our Group Leaders who summoned the energy to write miniblogs on their experiences. We hope you find these both useful and enjoyable.

– Hugh Price, HoD Abingdon – Roman Spain School Trip Attachment A. Hugely enthusiastic and happy to be contacted by anyone considering the trip.

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ii – Gill Greef (rtd HoD & creator of School trip Booklets) – Epirus and Thesprotia Attachment B

iii–Peter Bond (rtd HoD)–Greece with the in laws (very tongue in cheek) Attachment C

iv – James Heath (our very own!) – Walking Rome’s Obelisks Attachment D 

FEEDBACK – Autumn School Trips: how did we perform?  

Overall very good, but could do better.

Huge thanks for the many amazingly positive comments, despite our errors –

Thanks so much for everything. More effusive praise will be forthcoming later once I regain my ability to put words into a coherent sentence. I confess to being a little on the tired side at the moment.  

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Suffice it to say, you and your staff have proved why anyone who has travelled with you would never travel with anyone else again …

Had great feedback from students and parents – the two staff who hadn’t been to Greece before loved every minute of it… 

We’re back from a very successful Sicily trip – I’ll send you a summary email sometime this week but for now feel free to rest assured we had an excellent few days!  

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Sarah and Claudia were great  

Thank you for all the support from you and your team. I really appreciate it. 

I trust your judgement and have passed on your reassurances to my Head of Faculty – thank you. 

Sarah and Claudia were typically and profoundly helpful throughout.  

Sabrina and her colleague Lorena were very helpful.  I was very impressed with all the staff at both hotels and the Trattorias and I particularly enjoyed the hotel in Sorrento. I ended up with a wonderful third floor room with a great view of Vesuvius. 

Sarah Thomason in particular is just top draw – any classicist leading a trip for the first time can rely on a really detailed blow-by-blow coverage of how to go about things.  

Claudia made everything simple and efficient 

Knowing the people involved – I know I’m in safe hands with Claudia, Sarah and John! 

Nevertheless, we are frustrated to hear of a decline in Hotel and Food standards in particular.

It seems that after the COVID hiatus with new staff (chefs/waiters) they are still trying to find their feet catering as they used to do for large groups.  We hope that as everyone settles to normality it will improve. 

It was very pasta/pizza heavy (to be expected of course) – worth seeing if any more vegetable-based 

We very much wish to return to pre-Lockdown standards but much is out of our hands – even though the ultimate responsibility obviously lies with us.

Most mortifyingly, we did make mistakes in sending two schools to two Museums (Rome and Athens) out of hours. Easily rectified, but it slipped through both our checks and that of our Agents and it makes us shudder.

Two schools had their trips cancelled because of Italian industrial action and UK storms; flight monies were recovered and the balance covered by insurance. Kudos to John and Claudia for staying up until dawn to facilitate the complicated coordination.

One school was permanently dogged by bad luck at every turn; overzealous entrance staff questioning pupil ages, one less than conscientious Courier (a last-minute C-19 replacement), one substandard supper, poor rooming arrangements.

Of course, we made a healthy financial compensation, but it shouldn’t have happened. Thankfully, they have re-booked!

All Schools reported back that pupils had enjoyed themselves enormously and that educational targets satisfied.

Our pupils all felt that it was a detailed and high-quality itinerary, so I am delighted about that. 

Yes absolutely, loads of sites for the keener Classicists and enough time in schedule to let everyone have free time and shopping. 

Many Schools commented on value for money, or at least acknowledging our attempts in trying bring trips in or under budget!

Sarah was excellent in accommodating everything we wanted to include and making suggestions to get us the best value for money on the flights.

On the surface, not the cheapest but only because they don’t hide any of the extras (e. g. single rooms for staff) and the hotels are very good.  

Everything is a lot more expensive nowadays, so I am most certainly not blaming the company for the expense! 

We thoroughly enjoyed following your Trips on Twitter and the lovely photographs and competitions. 

Thanks to Dr Sophie Hay on Twitter: “@ShrewsburyClass Fantastic photographs all round! My congratulations! My favourite though is the sun setting over the road in Pompeii because it’s the most magical time on site for lighting and being able to enjoy the site with fewer visitors and this photo captures all that perfectly. I am honoured! (And maybe a little biased!)”

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Outstanding Superstars of the Autumn Term –  

1st Again – Coach Driver Dimitri from Argos

Dimitris is the most amazing driver – friendly, proactive and knowledgeable.

Sorry we can’t clone him, but he does have a great team and we sent a healthy Xmas present bonus for his children!

It was also lovey, just before Xmas, to meet up with him, his wife and father, all of whom send you their very best regards.

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2nd – Rome Courier Ramona

– Our Courier, Ramona, was truly outstanding in every regard 

ii – Ramona, our Italian courier, was excellent. She was very useful when translating and sorted us very good lunches on a couple of days. She spontaneously gained us entry to the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella. 

3rd – Hadrian’s Wall Guide – Peter was amazing. Honestly, he made the trip so much better than it could have been. We did not go to Corbridge at all, but instead went to Roman Army museum Friday pm (on his suggestion, weather was atrocious!). Then, as the weather had improved, he took us to Cawfields and showed us a section of the wall and a milecastle. He was keen to do this as he felt it was important for the pupils to understand about the wall in advance of the walk. It was a really good idea! Then at Vindolanda he also was flexible, helpful, knowledgeable and such an asset to the day.  I’m so pleased you found him for us.  

Honourable Mentions – 

i – John and Claudia for pulling a monumental ‘all-nighter’

ii – Loredana in Italy for arranging asthma medication, late at night without a prescription.We got the medicine for our pupil within the hour without having to go to A&E!!  

Forward Planning and the NEW SIX WEEK RULE

i – Thank you for completing your Feedback Forms! Although the lesson largely learned is that whatever we have organised this end doesn’t necessarily materialise at the other end, it does draw attention to weak areas in need of monitoring/improvement plus highlighting what works well and who deserves praise.

ii – However, Feedback Forms only work if they are completed properly and with specifics. Why wasn’t the Hotel niceWhich Entrance Fees were incorrectWhich Hotel buffet wasn’t replenishedWhich venue/activity is particularly worthy of recommendation to other GLs? Domus AureaTopos Alou Theatre Workshops and Thebes Archaeological Museum received great praise, but one teacher frustratingly only wrote ‘yes’ without identifying which venue!

Schools often have different experiences of the same Hotels, Restaurants, Drivers and Museums – so the more detail you offer us, the better chance we have of creating the most appropriate trip for you in future.

iii – Flight prices are high and will continue to rise. Cheap airfares aren’t coming back according to airline execs.

Availability remains tight as Airlines have not returned to pre-Lockdown schedules and use of provincial airports. Ryan Air suspended flights to Athens at one point and easyJet doesn’t use Luton.

This puts extra strain on other airlines, hence recently received email: “I’ve checked departures up to and including 24OCT and can’t get any seats just now.” 

Many more Schools are travelling out of Term and we are virtually back to back January – April inclusive. Not only does traveling out of Term offer the chance of cheaper flights, it also eases up Hotel & Coach availability and spreads out everyone’s work load.

One Teacher has suggested Just wondering whether it’s worth badgering the school to get the process started a little earlier? A few weeks’ difference could potentially mean a saving of £100 on the flights! 

iv – Inflated Booking Numbers, Understaffing and Errors.  

To compound problems caused by flight shortages, the continuing staycation boom both here and abroad, post Lockdown adult travel fever, many Hotels remaining closed and service industry staffing levels way below acceptable levels – there is inevitably one result. Errors.

Pre-Lockdown we had mostly eradicated poor options for vegetarians and vegans. Pre-Lockdown we had sourced good 4* Hotels at 3* prices whose owners understood the particular needs and safety issues of schools.

Last October, some Greek and Italian Hotels did not room pupils and staff all together as agreed and in some (mercifully few) instances double beds were offered! Totally unacceptable.

Desperate to recoup losses, some Hotels have upgraded and now prefer adults on 7/10 nights duration over schools staying for one or two.

Proprietors cannot afford to pay kitchen and waiting staff overtime if your flight is delayed, so be prepared for a cold plate on late arrival. Kitchens may not open for early departure 6am breakfasts.

Quad bedrooms may become more common than triples, bunk beds (against which we have always baulked) may be utilised of necessity.

Many Hotels will not take schools at all and sometimes we have to opt for perfectly adequate but more old-fashioned alternative accommodation. This is particularly true for Sorrento and increasingly so for Nafplio & Tolo. If you want 4/5*, you will pay a premium.

Obviously, we continue to request the old favourites as the adult boom will, we hope, level off eventually.

Similarly, we will resume the fight to raise standards which in some instances appear to have reverted to those of 1980’s!

v – Rooming Requests. Securing 5 or 6 single staff rooms has always been an issue……. with more requests for student single rooms and particular year group breakdowns, rooming issues will become more difficult and more expensive.

vi – Most Trips are oversubscribed and it’s great for you to have a waiting list. However, if you have requested from us multiple pax/staff:pupil ratios please quote to parents (in your initial letter), the higher not lower cost as if the trend reverses you will may be forced to either request a supplement or cancel the trip.

vii – C-19 has not gone away and Chinese pupils may experience difficulties at Border Controls in both Italy and Greece.

ix – Whispering Guides are now only mandatory for Guiding in the New Akropolis Museum and with Official Italian Guides. The Colosseo does insist for Groups regardless, but as in last October Term, you will see groups without them. This is purely at the discretion of the Guardians and we have to be ‘as Caesar’s Wife’   

Everything went smoothly in terms of arriving at the Classical sites once I had got into the pattern of presenting the letters etc. I did understand why we need the Whispering Guides in Rome. We were probably fortunate not to be challenged, so I do understand why we needed them. 

x – Entrance Fees  

  1. From January 2023 New Akropolis Museum charges €10 each in situ 
  2. Entrance Staff are not always correct; you do need an Official Letter, you do not secure free entry by writing to the Cultural Minister, Groupscannot secure a reduced fee all-in-one multi ticket online…….
  3. You do not require passport size photos of each group member on Italian Official School Entrance Letters
  4. Reduced Entry is for under 18yrs old pupils only. Those schools who underwent intense scrutiny at entrance gates did in fact have pupils over or approaching the maximum age and could have been charged extra. Please take care.
  5. Palatine Hill Museum and Imperial Houses have now reopened, but it means a purchase of a more expensive Super Ticket over two days. Plan wisely.

Once again you proved your worth. It is striking how many times Hellene and the sister company in Italy knew their stuff and how often local knowledge was wrong or confused.  

One Scottish School did quite well with Free Entrances as some Guardians believed them still to be part of the EU!

xi – New Generation Coaches

  1. a) are smaller in size and some coach companies are not back up to their full complement. No longer can we can we confidently take bookings of 50+ and rely on a price list, we now have to check availability and, in some instances, wait for an individual quote specifically for you as Coach companies are wary about future fuel supplements. Availability is also an issue, so please alert us quickly if you plan to change dates.
  2. b) Super Modern Tachometers which can be accessed automatically en route by police, with automatic closure of Toll Barriers and ‘capture’, fines and imprisonment of miscreants, means driver hours must be strictly adhered to.
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On the whole 10hrs in Greece and Italy but 9hrs in Campania and on last day in Greece as they have to return to depot. A long day in Pompeii for example followed by a transfer to Pizza and/or ice cream making will necessitate two drivers and an extra charge. Use the Circumvesuviana to reduce costs if at all possible!

Similarly, long return day trips from Athens to Delphi and the Argolid and from Tolo to Athens, Olympia and Delphi will incur a surcharge.

A late return flight therefore means a late start from the hotel………but in Tolo at least you can visit Ancient Assine at the end of the beach on your final morning!


Both we and our Agents have always prided ourselves on being able to accommodate last minute requests, but we have been asked by our Agents to introduce a SIX WEEK CUT OFF POINT largely because of staff shortages and other restrictions mentioned above.

Thus, although we will all try to cater for last minute itinerary and rooming changes etc, we cannot guarantee success if your request comes in under six weeks before departure.

xiii – Late Dispatch of Final Packs and delays in Quotations 

We are very aware that sometimes we are not as fast as we once were, but we can only send the information to you when we receive it………and venues abroad remain understaffed

Finally, a few words of advice before your next trip –  

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Please, encourage pupils not to put Roman Tiles in their bag, even if they do swear it was lying on the pavement outside the Colosseo! It wasnoticed and the teacher was understandably panicky when they phoned us. All was well and they were allowed into the Forum eventually, but it could have ended in tears not laughter.

If parents feel their children are starving to death and in tears every night, could they phone you on tour please, not the Hotel? It causes consternation in the kitchen!

Could parents please not phone us about children’s’ diets, behavioural eccentricities, Visas etc. We have to refer them back to you.

Apologies to one school who bemoaned the lack of time for one last activity “At the Corinth canal on way to the airport. Sadly not enough time to try the local sport

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Here’s to a fabulous 2023 Year and success in all future trips!

Very Best Wishes from John, Sarah and the Hellene Team!